Monday, January 25, 2016

A Moment to Discover the Secrets of the Best Chai

It's my birthday today, and I've been sitting here, enjoying a cup of my favorite Assam, thinking about tea. And chai, as it turns out.

Assam by Joseph Wesley Black Tea
Chai. I see and hear about it everywhere. The thing is, I most often hear about it terms of "chai lattes," which is kind of chai, but not quite.


What makes a good chai? What's the secret to making the Best Chai? I turned to my friend, Joe Uhl, founder of Joseph Wesley Black Tea, and here are the secrets that he shared:

My wife is Indian, so whenever I go to India I take note of my wife’s aunts' various techniques and have my cousins take me to their favorite chai wallahs where I make everyone laugh with embarrassment as I ask a lot of questions and show much too much interest in process. I learned a few important lessons about masala chai (secrets that are not in my recipe) this last trip and during previous trips:  

(1) The best chai wallahs always simmer their milk for hours to reduce the water content and increase the fat content.  This is important to create a heavier and more silky “mouthfeel” as the kids like to say. 
(2) The best chai wallahs almost invariably boil their milk.  This is important because boiling the milk will actually brown the sugar. I’ve found it easiest to boil the milk before simmering (I boil it three times.  Let it come to a rapid boil, take it off the heat, let it come to a rapid boil, take it off the heat, let it come to a boil and then take it off the heat.  When you return the milk the fourth time, reduce the milk to simmer and let it simmer for as long as you can.) 
(3) Although the chai wallahs rarely do this, I’ve found that it’s best to infuse your milk with your spices and then add your pre-made chai/tea concentrate with a 1 to 1 ratio — instead of infusing the actual tea and adding milk.  This provides you a much longer time to allow the spices to develop as you allow the milk to thicken. 
(4) Actual milk is rarely used by the best chai wallahs. Almost all chai wallahs use evaporated milk instead of whole milk, although I’ve had occasion to have goat’s milk masala chai (in southeast asia everyone uses sweetened condensed milk).  I know it’s not fashionable with the youth, but evaporated milk creates the je ne sais quoi almost always missing in North American masala chai attempts.  — Sweetened condenses milk has a lot to offer too, but in my old age it’s just too sweet for me.  
(5) Black peppercorns are not essential but really important — much more than fresh ginger (although ginger can add something nice to a masala chai) — with that in mind, I like to add a pinch of salt to enhance some of the spices lurking in the background.
Recipe and Image by Joseph Wesley Tea

In honor of Joe's willingness to share his Chai Secrets, and because it's my birthday, I'm giving away a free copy of Joe's amazing book. The Art and Craft of Tea.

To be entered into a drawing to win a copy of this book, please vote on which chapter you would read first in his book. You may vote in the comments here, or Twitter, or Facebook or Instagram. Tag me (@teamoment). You may enter once per social media platform. The drawing will take place this Friday. January 29th at 12 p.m. Pacific Time. So, which chapter would you read first?